Conference Puts the Spotlight on Financial Exploitation of the Elderly

Published in Pawtucket Times, October 31, 2014

In 2005, 80-year old Jane Jacques suffered her second stroke and was diagnosed with dementia. With no family living nearby, the widow’s physician determined that she could no longer live independently at home. The Department of Elderly Affairs asked the Alliance for Better Long Term Care to find Ms. Jacques a guardian. The probate court appointed Janet Mastronardi, to serve as guardian, making the East Greenwich attorney responsible for the older woman’s personal and financial well-being.

Over the next five years, Mastronardi embezzled and misappropriated approximately $130,000 from Jacques’ accounts, leaving her near penniless. An employee of lawyer noticed the financial irregularities while preparing an accounting of Jacques’ finances for the probate court and contacted the Rhode Island State Police, who conducted an investigation.

Earlier this year, Mastronardi pled guilty to her crimes of financial exploitation and although the Attorney General’s Office sought jail time, the Court ordered her to seven years, with 30 months to serve in home confinement and the remaining 54 months suspended with probation. In addition, the Court ordered her to pay full restitution to Jacques’ estate.

This case clearly illustrates the hidden problem of financial exploitation on older victims who oftentimes are unwilling to report this abuse because for fear of losing support of their family member or caregiver or future retaliation of these individuals. Simply put, this abuse occurs when deception, coercion, undue influence or misrepresentation is used, like the above example, to obtain unauthorized use of the older person’s property, money, pension book or other valuables.

But, the National Center on Elder Abuse, as well as other elder advocate organizations, has called financial exploitation of elders “the crime of the century.”

Aging advocates say there is currently reliable current data available on the precedence of financial exploitation. But, according to a 2010 survey by the Investor Protection Trust (IPT), more than seven million older Americans – one out of every five citizens over the age of 65 – already have been victimized by a financial scam. One year later, a MetLife study reported the huge impact of this problem, noting that the annual financial loss by victims of elder financial abuse is estimated to be at least $2.9 billion dollars, a 12 percent increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008.

Combatting Financial Exploitation in Rhode Island

Just two days ago, the state’s Rhode Island Commission for the Safety and Care of the Elderly, brought together the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA), local and state police, fire, social service agencies, and banks and other financial institutions to put the spotlight on financial exploitation

The half day event, hosted by the Rhode Island Citizens Commission for the Safety and Care of the Elderly, at the CVS Health Finance Center in Cumberland, provided over 100 attendees an in-depth look at how financial crimes cases against older persons are developed, investigated and prosecuted, as well as a discussion on best practices for financial institutions to identity financial exploitation.

Financial Exploitation a Change to Investigate

Keynote speaker, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, stated “As striking as that figure is, government statistics estimate that financial exploitation is a highly underreported crime because many of the victims are unaware they are being duped or they are too frightened to even report this crime. Many elders rely on others they believe they can trust to handle their financial affairs, only to be robbed of their hard-earned money. In some cases, the perpetrator leaves the victim penniless. Financial exploitation of elders is one of the most challenging charges to investigate and prosecute,” said.

Recognizing the challenging factors in investigating and prosecuting elder abuse, including financial exploitation, the AG’s Office has created the Elder Abuse Unit, to handle those type of cases, says Kilmartin, noting that the specialized unit was created in recognition of the fact that the proportion of the state’s population over age 60 is dramatically increasing and will continue to do so. The Elder Abuse Unit is responsible for investigative management and prosecution of crimes involving elderly victims of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation

Since it was established in 2006, the Elder Abuse Unit has seen a steady increase in the number of cases reported and prosecuted, noted Kilmartin, adding that the Office in its first year prosecuted 65 cases of elder abuse, including physical and financial exploitation. Last year, 140 individuals were prosecuted, an increase of 115 percent in less than ten years, he says…

Kilmartin credited the dramatic increase in prosecutions to a recognition by society that financial exploitation is a crime and should be prosecuted. “Like other forms of elder abuse, financial exploitation is a complex problem and it is easy for people to have misconceptions about it. I have made it a priority to educate the public, law enforcement, healthcare professionals and the financial industry on the signs of financial exploitation and the numbers prove that increased awareness has directly led to increased reporting and prosecuting,” stated Kilmartin.

The Attorney General called on banking and financial industry to understand and know the signs of financial exploitation, as they are most likely to catch irregular transactions by perpetrators. “As many elders still regularly go to the bank, bank personnel are in a good position to notice suspicious activity and behavior,” he added.

John Clarkson, former Pawtucket Police Officer who now serves as Assistant Vice President of Security at Pawtucket Credit Union, led a presentation at the conference discussing how bank employees need to be aware of the various signs that an elder may be being exploited and ways to stop it.

“It’s unfortunate but our elders are a prime target for financial exploitation. It is important that we at Pawtucket Credit Union and at other financial institutions train our front line staff and management to identify when this is occurring, prevent it if possible, and most importantly report it immediately. When discovered we have worked closely with the Attorney General’s Office and law enforcement agencies throughout the state to have those responsible prosecuted,” Clarkson said.

Kilmartin stressed that it is equally important for family members and friends to prevent and report instances of financial exploitation. He urges, family, friends and neighbors to take note of what may be happening with older relatives or neighbors. “If anything seems suspicious, such as the person seems to be withdrawn, nervous, fearful or anxious, especially around certain people, when they have not seemed so in the past, it is important to report the matter to the appropriate authorities,” he recommends.

Abuse and self-neglect reports can be filed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and on nights, weekends, and holidays, by calling 401-462-0555. Reports can be filed anonymously and are confidential. In filing a report of alleged abuse, you should give as much detail as possible, including the name of the elder, address, and contact information. If reporting to law enforcement, contact your police department, the Rhode Island State Police at 401-444-1000, or the Office of Attorney General at 401-274-4400.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Mistaken Identity Can Be Hazardous to Your Business

Published in Golocalprov.com, October 24, 2014

Just three weeks before the City of Providence’s election for Mayor, Eastside customers of The Camera Werks, a long-time fixture on Hope Street, expressed concern over a recent letter to the editor (LTE) written by a Patricia Louise Zacks, who they surmised was the retail store owner. The small neighborhood retail establishment has operated for over 27 years, serving three generations of customers.

Unaware of the published letter, visitors and emails began coming in regarding the LTE, which left the shop owner. Patricia Susan Zacks, confused. Through conversations, she quickly learned that emails were circulating throughout the East Side neighborhood, linking her to the editorial letter that she never wrote. In sharp protest to the views of the editorial letter, longtime customers pledged to bring their business elsewhere.

Last week’s political drama came about because of mistaken identities. The October 15 LTE, was actually penned by Providence resident, Patricia Louise Zacks, who is now married to the retail store owner’s former husband.

The mistake of mixing up the two Zacks’ identities might not have occurred if Providence Journal newspaper readers had gotten the facts straight before they circulated the LTE to Eastside friends among the Summit Neighborhood. Each Zacks has a different middle name and reside in different cities, one is an East Side resident in Providence, and the other is a Pawtucket resident in Oakhill, just across the Providence city line.

Patricia Susan Zacks, the camera store owner, attempted to use Face Book to clarify that the author of the LTE was not her, but rather a Providence resident, stating “I am a Pawtucket resident who has been a Hope Street merchant for over 27 years and have proudly served my customers. I extend best wishes to all the candidates and look forward to working with whomever the voters decide for the future of Providence.”

Coming to Like Buddy, More

The LTE’s heading, “Journal’s fear of Cianci leads us to support him,” summed up Providence resident Patricia Louise Zacks’ personal journey to ultimately support the former Providence mayor, she says. The Eastside resident of 10 years who works for the State’s Department of Transportation notes that she and her husband “sat on the fence,” for a while not able to decide whether to cast their vote for Housing Court Judge Jorge Elorza or Cianci.

The couple knew of Cianci’s previous felony convictions (acknowledging he served his time and legally had a right to run for mayor) but that he was able to run a City and provide needed services to its residents. Elorza had “impressive credentials,” too, making their political decision, virtually “an impossible choice,” noted Patricia Louis Zacks. She also pointed out in her LTE that Cianci has little to hide, he’s an open book to the voters because of the coverage in the Providence Journal, editorials, op eds, and debates.

Finally, the LTE noted that the straw that broke the camel’s back was the continual attack on Cianci by the Providence Journal combined with an attempt by East Siders to secretly raise $1 million to defeat the two-time convicted felon.

Patricia Louise Zacks notes that after she went public with her household’s support for Cianci, several spiteful messages were left on her answering machine. One caller gave his support for her candidate, but others made typically insulting remarks.

“I expected I would get all sorts of flack, but I didn’t get upset or angry because I could just hit the delete button,” she said.

But, Patricia Louise Zacks also learned of the negative impact of her LTE on another person, one who carried her last surname.

Looking back, “What kind of world do we live in where I cannot exercise my constitutionally-protected right to express my personal opinion in a local newspaper without causing professional and possibly even financial damage to a woman [with the same last name] who owns a small photography and framing business, and is also someone I personally know, admire, and hold in high esteem,” says Patricia Louise Zacks, quipping. “How in God’s name can such a thing happen?”

Chiding those who punish merchants because of who they politically support, she believes offering a quality product or service at a fair price should be more than enough for any businessperson to offer. “Making that owner’s religion, sexual orientation, race, and gender – especially that person’s political ideology – a part of the transaction is, in my opinion, vindictive and small-minded,” charges Patricia Louise Zacks.

A Political Moral

Living in a democracy gives us many rights and privileges, including the entitlement to support a particular political candidate and the right to publically publicize that choice.

Over the years, political campaigns have become a blood sport, even more so in controversial campaigns like the Cianci-Elorza race. Patricia Louise Zacks voiced her support for Cianci, giving us examples of how she reached this decision (to the dismay of many Eastsiders) in a LTE printed in the Providence Journal, the largest major daily in the Ocean State.

But, it was Patricia Susan Zacks who faced the wrath of Eastside readers, many of her customers, because they mistakenly believed she was endorsing the former Providence mayor, a candidate that they were working hard to defeat. Circulating emails with this LTE attached only added fuel to the intense political drama in Rhode Island’s largest community.

One well-placed Elorza supporter told this columnist that he saw no problem boycotting businesses if the owner was not in sync with their choice of candidates. But, in my opinion winning an election should not be based on a “torch and burn” mentality because of differing political views.

For those who want to use their economic clout to support their candidates, I urge them to get the facts straight. Here is a situation where people took action based on faulty information.

If people have differing positions on candidates or policy issues, they can just agree to disagree. When the dust settles after the upcoming Nov. 4 election, whoever carries the day, the sun will surely rise the next day. I can guarantee that one.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues, who just happens to be the husband of Patricia S. Zacks. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com

Credit Breaches Are Hazardous to Your Financial Health

Published in Pawtucket Times, October 17, 2014

It seems to happen all the time. Just recently Target Corporation, Home Depot, Dairy Queen and Neiman Marcus – followed by Michaels, and more recently JPMorgan Chase and Kmart – found their data systems being breached. I thought that I had dodged the bullet from being a victim until last month when I received a letter from my local savings and loan warning me about a potential security breach affecting my credit card.

Data breaches and hacking annually affect millions of Americans, costing billions of dollars and countless hours for consumers to correct problems resulting from identity theft and fraud that results in their checks bouncing and being accessed late fees.
Data Breaches Not a Rare Occurrence

What exactly is a data breach? Simply put, a data breach occurs when a company’s database, typically containing customer information, is hacked by sophisticated malware programs that can infiltrate a company’s network, sometimes for months before being noticed.

“Not that long ago, we were taught to always know where your wallet or purse was to ensure we didn’t fall victim to a pickpocket. Yesterday’s common street thief is today’s computer hacker, and it is often months before you realized they’ve virtually picked your pocket,” said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.

According to the Rhode Island Attorney General, his staff has been busy in the past year informing consumers about the data breaches at some of best-known retail and financial companies. He says last year, there were multiple reports of massive data breaches at the nation’s largest corporations. According to a recent survey, 43 percent of companies have suffered one data breach this past year, and 60 percent say they’ve been struck by multiple data breaches in the last two years.
“In today’s technology–driven and paperless retail marketplace, it is inevitable that some, if not all, of your personal and financial information – credit card and banking information, email, and social security number – will be compromised,” warns Kilmartin.

Congressman James Langevin has been a leader on the issue of cyber security, and is leading efforts inside the Washington Beltway. “Stories of public data breaches are becoming increasingly common, and if a Fortune 500 company is susceptible to these types of breaches, we can be sure that similar attacks are possible among other retailers and businesses,” said Congressman Jim Langevin, the co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus. “I have been sounding the alarm on cybersecurity for years, and I fear the consequences if we delay any further the steps needed to strengthen our technology infrastructure,” said Langevin.

The Democratic lawmaker, serving the second congressional district since 1991, says, “I am particularly concerned about the potential for cyber attack against critical infrastructure, including our power grid, wastewater management and banking and health care systems, just to name a few. All of these essential services are tied into technology, and it is going to take both a strong commitment from government and a continued partnership between public and private industry in order to get us where we need to be on cyber security. Securing these networks must be a priority, and I believe it is a crucial component of our national and economic security strategies.”

Kilmartin says make no doubt about it, data breaches are a crime, but law enforcement has significant hurdles to overcome when investigating cyber crimes. “Companies that have been targets of recent data breaches are working with federal law enforcement authorities to investigate how the breach happened and who is responsible,” he notes, stressing that early evidence shows that most of the sophisticated criminal enterprises that commit cyber crimes operate outside of the United States, often in Eastern Europe. “The hackers are out of the reach of traditional law enforcement and US Courts, but that has not stopped local, state and federal authorities from investigating,” he says.

Consumers Must Become Their Own Watchdog

“Consumers in today’s world need to continually monitor their electronic purchases, their personal medical information, as well as their banking records. Consumers can follow all the rules to protect their information, and if a business or other entity entrusted with this information is vulnerable, consumers, through no fault of their own, can still be impacted. Many times, a consumer’s first contact with law enforcement may be dealing with the aftermath of a data breach or identity theft. Please know that we are there to help you and will thoroughly investigate to resolve these crimes,” stated Colonel Steven G. O’Donnell, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police.

Kilmartin also confirmed that he and attorneys general in several states are looking into these data breaches and hope to get answers from the companies targeted as to how and why they took place. “There are multi-state investigations by attorneys general into how these companies left consumer information vulnerable to an attack,” he said, noting, “as consumer advocates, we are determined to get to the bottom of these data breaches and to work with the companies to better protect the consumer.”

Kilmartin believes it is up to consumers to be their own watchdog: “While companies and law enforcement officials are trying to put an end to this trend, the only way someone can protect themselves is to be vigilant in monitoring their personal and financial information. And by that, I mean check your banking and credit card statements regularly and limit how much information you share with companies.”

Keeping Credit Card Thieves At Bay

Kilmartin says, “I always tell consumers that the best way to protect yourself from scams is education. Being wary of potential scams, and being a savvy consumer is the best way to stop a scam artist in their tracks.” He offers the following common sense tips to protect your credit:

Check your credit card and debit card statements regularly, and on a line-by-line basis. One may think to only look for large unauthorized charges, but thieves may place a small charge – only a few dollars – to check if the card is active. If that charge goes unnoticed, thieves will then make a large unauthorized purchase. Report all suspicious charges, no matter how small. And, check your statements every day if possible. “It may be too late to recoup some or all of your money if you don’t report it immediately,” said Kilmartin.

If you notice an unauthorized charge, report it to your financial institution immediately, cancel the card and have the bank issue you a new one.

Kilmartin recommends consumers take advantage of free credit monitoring many affected companies are offering. “Companies who have been impacted by a data breach don’t want to lose customer loyalty. Many offer up to one free year of credit monitoring for any consumer who shopped there during the breach,” he adds.

Consider adding a fraud alert to your credit report file to protect your credit information. A fraud alert can make it more difficult for someone to get credit in your name because it tells creditors to follow certain procedures, which may include contacting you directly, before authorizing the credit card, says Kilmartin, noting that while this may delay your ability to obtain credit immediately, it will protect you from someone fraudulently opening a credit card in your name.

Kilmartin urges Rhode Islanders to be suspicious of emails, phone calls, or text messages claiming to be from your bank or a retailer you shopped at. Hackers may not have gained access to all the information they need, and will often use the information they do have, like name, date of birth or credit card number to convince you to part with even more sensitive information, such as passwords or social security numbers. When in doubt, call your financial institution directly with questions. The phone number is usually on the back of credit cards and debit cards.

Update your computer’s anti-virus software. Just as hackers have wormed their way into secure databases at large-scale companies, they can worm their way into your computer.

Change your passwords. The most basic way to stop an intruder is to lock the door. Set strong passwords and don’t reuse them for different accounts, especially for accounts that involve your banking or credit card information.

Go “old school” and pay with cash or check. While we have become accustomed to using credit and debit cards to make everyday purchases, every company still takes U.S. currency.

Under federal law, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies. You may obtain a free copy of your credit report by going to http://www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care, and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Study: Citizens Over Age 50 Not a Drain on Economy

Published in Pawtucket Times, October 10, 2014

Almost one year ago, Oxford Economics in cooperation with AARP released a briefing paper, The Longevity Economy. The national study gave the nation’s largest aging advocacy group the ammunition it needed to dispel the myth that baby boomers and seniors are not a drain on the nation’s economy, rather researchers found that they drivers of the nation’s economic growth. This data will keep businesses, investors and inventors from overlooking the wants and needs of older Americans as they develop new products and business plans.

This week the national analysis was supplemented, detailing the state level contribution of people over 50.

Shattering a Myth

According to Jody Holtzman, AARP’s Senior Vice President Thought Leadership, the nonprofit aging advocacy group commissioned the initial Longevity Economy report from Oxford Economics to challenge society’s and Washington’s misconceptions that people over age 50 are only a drain on the economy. He said, “to the contrary the analysis shows that this population is an important driver of economic growth in key sectors of the United State economy such as technology, healthcare, travel and education.”

Holtzman says the formal economic impact analysis has been conducted, both nationally at the state level can shift the way federal and state policy makers will view the nation’s aging population. “Not only can we “afford” the growing population of older people, we can’t do without them, as they are a key source of economic growth, jobs, salaries, and taxes that benefit people and families of all ages and generations,” he says.

“The economic activity of the Longevity Economy provides employment for nearly 89 million Americans with $3.8 trillion in salary and wages, contributes $1.75 trillion in Federal and state and local taxes annually and is a huge source of charitable giving, contributing nearly $100 billion annually to a variety of causes and concerns – nearly 70% of all charitable donations from individuals,” says Holtzman.

The 19 page study notes that by 2032, it is projected that over age 50 Americans will make up about 52 percent of the US GDP. The average wealth of the households of these individuals is almost three times the size of those headed by people ages 25 to 50.

As to technology, Baby Boomers (ages 50 to 68) are heavy users of the internet and social networking and they spend more time online when compared to either Generation X (ages 34 to 49) and Generation Y (ages 14 to 33) consumers. Boomers average online spending over a three month period amounts to $650 outpacing the two younger generations.

Researchers also found that those over age 50 fill nearly 100 million jobs, generating over $4.5 trillion in wages and salaries.

The Longevity Economy is not a passing phenomenon, observes Holtzman, noting that increased life spans will result in a “consistently large over-50 population even after the Baby Boomer wave has crested.”

Holtzman adds, “The particular wants and needs of the Longevity Economy when it comes to consumer spending, housing, healthcare and employment have dramatic implications for business, society and government.” Not only does the Longevity Economy have a strong, net positive economic impact on the nation’s economy, the nation’s age 50 and over “will also continue to serve as a significant resource and safety net for their parents and children.”

A Snap Shot of Rhode Island

Despite being 36 percent of the state’s population in 2013 (expected to reach 38 percent in 2040), the total economic contribution of the Longevity Economy accounted for 46 percent of Rhode Island’s GDP, or $24 billion, noted by AARP’s release of its state specific analysis. The impact on the state’s GDP was driven by $18 billion in consumer spending by over 50 households.

Rhode Island’s $24 billion Longevity Economy GDP supported 54 percent of the state’s jobs (0.3 million), 47 percent of employee compensation ($14 billion), and 52 percent of state taxes ($2 billion), says the state specific economic analysis,

Also, the state specific dated noted that the greatest number of jobs supported by the Longevity Economy were in health care (88,000), retail trade (47,000) and accommodation & food service (33,000). Overall, people over age 50 make up 34 percent of the state’s workforce. Sixty seven percent of the workers ages 50 to 64 are employed compared to 79 percent ages 25 to 49.

Finally, 11 percent of the state’s older workers (ages 50 to 64) are self-employed entrepreneurs, compared with 7 percent of people ages 25 to 49. Forty four percent of these older workers work in professional occupations, compared to 47 percent of the younger workers.

The [Rhode Island] analysis takes a closer look at something we have known for some time,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Rhode Islanders 50-plus are an important driver of our state’s economy,” she says.

Connell says the data complements findings in a paper published recently by the journal PLOS ONE, a group of international researchers at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, the Max Planck Institute and the University of Washington. “It concluded that as retirement approaches and certainly after retirement, leisure time increases. And while there are many who will gear down, relax, travel and devote time to grandchildren (traditional retirement), Baby Boomers – better educated, healthier and with greater access to information than any previous generation of retirees – will have much more time to provide the energy and intellectual capacity, as well as the capital resources to help drive innovation,” she adds.

“With that in mind, AARP partners with the Small Business Administration to support ’encore entrepreneurs’ 50 and older. I agree with SBA Administrator Karen Mills, who says retirees are using their decades of expertise and their contacts to start new businesses and to finally pursue that venture that has been stirring their dreams for all these years,” Connell says.

“So not only do the people who make up the longevity economy represent an economic impact,” Connell added, “they are in a position to be leaders in innovation.”

AARP’s economic data analysis has shattered the age-old myth that a growing older population will ultimately bankrupt the federal and state’s budgets because of the need for increased programs and services for these individuals. Data shows us that America’s oldest generations can be considered the gas that revs the state and nation’s economic engine. Federal and State policy makers need to get this point.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health and medical care issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Report: Caregivers Face Demanding Personal and Professional Challenges

Published in Pawtucket Times, October 3, 2014

Providing care to cognitively and complex chronically impaired family members can be hazardous to the health and mental wellbeing of caregivers, says a jointly issued report by the United Hospital Fund and AARP Public Policy Institute. The researchers found that the demanding personal and professional challenges lead to high levels of self-reported challenges.

According to Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care to People with Cognitive and Behavioral Health Conditions, a publication in the “Insight on the Issues” released on Aug. 19, a majority of respondents (61 percent) reported constant stress from having their feeling stress “sometimes to always,” between their caregiving responsibilities and trying to meet other work or family obligations.

Adding to the challenge, people with cognitive and behavioral conditions (collectively termed in the 13 page report “challenging behaviors”) were generally sicker than other people requiring caregiving. These persons needing care often had chronic physical health diagnoses—including cardiac disease, stroke/hypertension, musculoskeletal problems (such as arthritis or osteoporosis), and diabetes—at higher rates than those without cognitive and behavioral conditions. Further illustrating the complexity, family caregivers of people with challenging behaviors often met with resistance from the person they were trying to help. Caregivers noted that “more cooperation from their family member” would make one key medical/nursing task—managing medications—easier.

The new findings are drawn from additional analysis of data based on a December 2011 national survey of 1,677 family caregivers, 22 percent of whom were caring for someone with one or more challenging behaviors. Earlier findings were published in the groundbreaking Public Policy Institute/United Hospital Fund report Home Alone: Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care and in earlier publications in the “Insight on the Issues” series, including Employed Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care and Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care to Their Spouses.

The report concludes, “All caregivers need training and support; caregivers who are responsible for people with challenging behaviors are among those most in need of assistance.”

Focused caregiver assessments were one of six recommendations outlined in the report. The others were better integration of behavioral and physical health programs, efforts to set up respite and adult day care programs for family caregivers, training of family caregivers to better understand and respond to challenging behaviors, better training of health care providers to work more effectively with family caregivers, and revisions to most support and training materials for family caregivers to reflect care management of the whole person, rather than just the specific condition.

“Caregiving is rarely uncomplicated, “said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell. “Add these issues and the stress on the caregiver grows and can feel unceasing. We need to be mindful of the circumstances caregivers face. In the larger scheme, this points to the need a strong strategy that provides support to all caregivers.”

Susan Reinhard, AARP’s Senior Vice President for Public Policy, adds: “Take a hard look at this profile of today’s overstretched and overstressed caregiver for someone with cognitive or behavioral issues,”. “This is the face of caregiving’s future unless we improve long-term services and support for family caregivers,” she said, pointing to the expected surge in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and the projected drop by more than half in the ratio of potential caregivers to those likely to need care.

“Caring for a family member is hard enough when the family member is on the same page,” said co-author Carol Levine, Director of the Families and Health Care Project for United Hospital Fund. “But when that family member has a cognitive impairment, like Alzheimer’s, or a behavioral issue, such as depression—things that can interfere with daily life as well as decision-making—the burden on the caregiver is multiplied. And currently, our health care system often doesn’t provide the kind of support that can make a difference.”

Gearing Up

According to the Rhode Island Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, in 2013 an estimated 5 million Americans age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. Unless more effective ways are identified and implemented to prevent or treat this devastating cognitive disorder, the prevalence may well triple, skyrocketing to almost 16 million people.

Meanwhile, with 24,000 Rhode Islanders afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, every Rhode Islander is personally touched, either caring for a family member with the cognitive disorder or knowing someone who is a caregiver or patient. As indicated by the recently released AARP/United Hospital Fund report, many of these caregivers will doubly challenged by taking care of a loved one with chronic diseases who also have chronic and behavioral issues.

As reported in a previous commentary, both federal and state officials are gearing up to battle the nation’s impending Alzheimer’s epidemic.

In February 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released its draft National Plan, detailing goals to prevent or treat the devastating disease by 2025. Almost six months later, in May 2012, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a joint resolution (The same month that the final National Plan was released.), signed by Governor Lincoln Chafee, directing the state’s Long Term Care Coordinating Council to lead an effort to create a state-wide strategy to react to Rhode Island’s growing Alzheimer’s population. Almost one year later, a 122 page document, the Rhode Island State Plan for Alzheimer’s Disease Disorders, was released to address the growing incidence in the Ocean State.

Amazingly with the November election looming, candidates for Lt. Governor may be discussing a multitude of issues, but not the Ocean State’s impending Alzheimer’s epidemic and its impact on caregivers. Nor are the candidates talking about how they would continue the work of Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts in implementing the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s efforts to fully implement the State’s Alzheimer’s plan.

With the Lt. Governor being given the responsibility of overseeing the work of the Long-term Care Coordinating Council, maybe aging policy issues like the state’s impending Alzheimer’s disease epidemic and its impact on state resources and caregivers should be thoroughly debated. It’s a no brainer.

Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care to People with Cognitive and Behavioral Health Conditions was produced with support from the John A. Hartford Foundation. The report is available at https://www.uhfnyc.org/publications/881005.

To review the Rhode Island’s Alzheimer’s plan go to http://www.ltgov.state.ri.us/alz/State%20Plan%20for%20ADRD%202013.pdf.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Pawtucket Hall of Fame Names Nesselbush As “Person of the Year”

Published in Pawtucket Times, September 27, 2014

Three City residents, Joan Crawley, former Director of the Pawtucket Leon Mathieu Senior Center, the late Kathleen Magill, a former Pawtucket City Councilor, and Miriam R. Plitt, President of the City’s Commission on Arts & Culture, will be inducted next month into the Pawtucket Hall of Fame. Philanthropist Elizabeth Higginson Weeden is this year’s historical inductee. All have made a significant impact on the City of Pawtucket.

Pawtucket dignitaries will induct this year’s Class of 2014 into the City’s most venerable institution, the Pawtucket Hall of Fame, at the upcoming 23rd annual dinner and induction ceremony. The Pawtucket Hall of Fame was founded in 1986 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the City of Pawtucket.

Interestingly, this year there will be a new twist in the Hall of Fame in that the induction committee has created a new category of inductee: the Pawtucket Person of the Year! “We’re excited about our new “Person of the Year” Award being given this year,” says Chair Ken McGill, noting that this prestigious accolade honors a person who has made a unique and superlative accomplishment that significantly benefits the entire City.

“Senator Donna Nesselbush will receive the distinct honor of being the first person ever to receive this recognition,” said McGill, who also serves as Pawtucket’s Registrar in the Board of Canvassers. McGill added, the Pawtucket Senator successfully advocated for civil rights for all Rhode Islanders when she championed the Senate Marriage Equality bill. This historic legislative proposal was passed (along with the House companion measure) and signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chaffee.

Over the years, Nesselbush also worked to help victims of domestic violence, the homeless, the injured and the disabled. “Nesselbush’s creative leadership and tenacious hard work played a vital role in the historic passage of marriage equality, successfully ending centuries of discrimination; this made her the obvious choice by the Committee to be Pawtucket’s first “Person of the Year” said McGill.

Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, notes “she has sponsored many important pieces of legislation, specifically bills to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, protect victims of crime, and to protect workers from exploitation. “I can think of no one more deserving of the recognition of being named to the Pawtucket Hall of Fame. It is my good fortune to call her a friend,” says Paiva Weed.

Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien agrees with both McGill and Paiva Weed about the selection of Nesselbush. “They couldn’t have gotten it more right, he said, noting that she is “one of our city’s strongest leaders.”
Making a Difference in the Community

Nesselbush’s long list of professional and personal accomplishments caught the attention of the Pawtucket Hall of Fame Committee. The 52-year old Pawtucket resident is a founding partner of the law firm of Marasco & Nesselbush, serving the injured and disabled. As an attorney, she has represented hundreds of Social Security Disability claimants at all levels of review before the Social Security Administration, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, the Appeals Council, the United States District Court, and the United States Court of Appeals.

Nesselbush, a graduate of Brown University and Suffolk University School of Law, now serves as Chief Judge of the Pawtucket Municipal Court and Vice-President of the Municipal Court Judges’ Association. She is the founder and Chair of the Rhode Island Bar Association’s Social Security Disability Committee.

In the past, the two term Senator has been honored for her work by numerous organizations. Most recently, in May of 2014 she received the distinguished Ada Sawyer Award from the Rhode Island Women’s Bar Association. She has also received Appreciation Awards from Crossroads Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. At Brown University she received the Sarah Doyle Prize “for making a significant contribution to women on campus and in the community,” and at Suffolk she received the Leo J. Wyman Award.

Bringing Marriage Equity to the Ocean State

With all of Nesselbush’s accomplishments, the Pawtucket Hall of Fame Committee zeroed in on her successful efforts to provide all Rhode Islander’s the right to marry the person they love.

Nesselbush had observed and participated in the intensely public (and simultaneously personal) debate on marriage equality over the years. Last year’s legislative policy debate put real faces to this religiously-charged issue, she said, noting that it was personal, political and professional all at the same time in that, as a judge, she was qualified to officiate at marriages, but as a person, she was not allowed to marry the woman of her dreams.

Nesselbush mentions a significant change in the times and in social mores, noting that as the debate raged, everyone seemed to know someone who is gay, and her lobbying conversations almost always began or ended with, “yes, I know ‘so and so’ who is gay; s/he’s great and has a great partner.”

Changing Rhode Island’s law to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry took a long time, a broad coalition in support, and an openly gay Speaker of the House, says Nesselbush, referencing former House Speaker Gordon Fox. The Pawtucket Senator added, “victory has many parents, and I was indeed honored to advocate for the issue alongside many outstanding grassroots organizations, like Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, and many local church and business groups and some of the state’s top political brass.

For almost 20 years, state lawmakers had grappled with the religiously charged issue of same-sex marriage. Throughout the years, Nesselbush attended many of the legislative hearings in support of same-sex marriage, only to see bills inevitably “held for further study.” Once she became a Senator, she clearly understood that this legislative code phrase often means the legislative proposal is…dead.

In 2010, as a newly elected Senator, Nesselbush was learning the legislative procedural ropes. Knowing that she was both new and walking a tight rope, she learned the fine art of vote counting. She scrambled to count votes only to realize that marriage equality would not in that year even get out of the House. Rather, the House passed a watered down, “skim milk” (in the words of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg) version entitled Civil Unions. Nesselbush voted against the Civil Unions bill, noting that she and Rhode Island’s LGBTQ community would not accept second class status. Though she acknowledged that Civil Unions bestowed some needed rights, she wanted to “take the high road,” voting against this less than desirable and often vilified vehicle. She wanted to stand for the proposition that separate is never equal; gay and lesbian couples deserve full marriage equality.”

Although the marriage equality bill was stymied in 2010, three years later Nesselbush was in the perfect position to champion the Senate bill; she was openly gay and no longer a rookie. She was determined to honor former Senator Rhoda Perry who carried this torch in the Senate for over 15 years, changing hearts and minds but falling short of getting the bill passed. Upon Perry’s retirement, Senator Sue Sosnowski of South Kingston, a long time civil rights advocate, was next in line to sponsor the marriage equality legislation. Nesselbush notes Sosnowski’s “generosity of spirit,” as she willingly stepped aside to allow the only openly gay Senator to “take the lead.” Nesselbush gives thanks and credit to Senate Majority Whip, Maryellen Goodwin, of the City for helping to massage the Senate’s customary seniority system, allowing Nesselbush to become the lead Senate sponsor.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-4 to pass Nesselbush’s same sex marriage bill along with the House companion measure. Both measures were passed by the Senate, and by the House in concurrence, and Governor Lincoln Chaffee put his pen to paper, signing the historic measure into law on May 3, 2013.

Bowing to the powerful Catholic lobby, the General Assembly leadership put language in the House and Senate bills reiterating the constitutionally guaranteed freedom for religious institutions to set their own guidelines for marriage eligibility within their faith, stipulating that under no circumstances will clergy or others authorized to perform marriages be obligated by law to officiate at a same sex marriage.

Through Nesselebush’s leadership, Rhode Island joined its New England neighbors, becoming the 10th state in the nation to enact marriage equality. Today, a total of 19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted marriage equality, and Nesselbush “predicts that the remaining ‘house of cards’ will fall quickly as ‘marriage equality fever’ spreads through the entire nation.”

The Pawtucket Hall of Fame 23rd Annual Dinner and Induction Ceremony is scheduled for October 28, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. (pre-induction reception at 6:00 p.m.) at the Le Foyer Club, 151 Fountain Street, Pawtucket. To purchase tickets, contact Ken McGill at 401 728-0500, Ext. 283.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering, aging, health care and medical issues. He is a member of the Pawtucket Hall of Fame Committee and can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

GAO: Report Says Older Persons Hit Hard by Student Loan Debt

Published in Pawtucket Times, September 19, 2014

By Herb Weiss

In her late 20s, Janet Lee Dupree took out a $ 3,000 student loan to help finance her undergraduate degree. While acknowledging that she did not pay off the student loan when she should have, even paying thousands of dollars on this debt, today the 72-year-old, still owes a whopping $15,000 because of compound interest and penalties. The Ocala, Florida resident, in poor health, will never pay off this student loan especially because all she can afford to pay is the $50 the federal government takes out of her Social Security check each month.

Citing Dupree’s financial problems in her golden years in his opening remarks at a Senate Panel hearing in Room 562 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Chairman Bill Nelson (D-FL), of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, used his legislative bully pulpit to dispel the myth that student loan debt only happens to young students. “Well, as it turns out, that’s increasingly not the case,” he said.

Student Loan Debt Impacts Seniors, Too

But, last week’s Senate Aging panel hearing also put the spot light on fifty seven-year-old Rosemary Anderson, a witness who traveled from Watsonville, California, to inside Washington’s Beltway, detailing her student loan debt. Anderson remarked how she had accumulated a $126,000 loan debt (initially $64,000) to pay for her bachelor’s and master’s degree. A divorce, health problems combined with an underwater home mortgage kept her from paying anything on her student loan for eight years.

Anderson told Senate Aging panel members that with new terms to paying off her student loan debt, she expects to pay $526 a month for 24 years to settle the defaulted loan, setting her debt at age 81. The aging baby boomer will ultimately pay $87,487 more than her original student loan amount.

Like Anderson, a small but growing percentage of older Americans who are delinquent in paying off their student debts worry about their Social Security benefits garnished, drastically cutting their expected retirement income.

According to a 22 page Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, “Inability to Repay Student Loans May Affect Financial Security of a Small Percentage of Retirees,” released at the Sept. 10 Senate panel hearing, the amount that older Americans owe in outstanding federal student loans has increased six-fold, from $2.8 billion in 2005 to more than $18 billion last year. Student loan debt for all ages totals $ 1 trillion.

The GAO report noted that student loan debt reduces net worth and income, eroding the older person’s retirement security.

Nelson observed, “Large amounts of any kind of debt can put a person’s finances at risk, but I think that Ms. Dupree’s story shows that student debt has real consequences for those in or near retirement. And, the need to juggle debt on a fixed income may increase the likelihood of student loan default.”

Although the newly released GAO report acknowledged that seniors account for a small fraction of student loan debt holders, it noted that the numbers of seniors facing student loan debt between 2004 and 2010 had quadrupled to 706,000 households. Roughly 80 percent of the student loan debt held by retirement-aged Americans was for their own education, while only 20 percent of loans were taken out went to help finance a child or dependent’s education, the report said.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who sits on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, acknowledges that student loan debt is a burden for thousands of Rhode Islanders, including a growing number of retirement-age borrowers who either took out student loans as young adults, or when they changed careers, or helped pay off a child’s education. “Student debt presents unique challenges to these older borrowers, who risk garnishment of Social Security benefits, accrual of interest, and additional penalties if they are forced to default,” says Whitehouse, stressing that pursuing an education should not result in a lifetime of debt.

Whitehouse sees the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow approximately 88,000 Rhode Islanders to refinance existing student loans at the low rates that were available in 2013-2014, as a legislative fix to help those who have defaulted on paying off their student loans. “By putting money back in the pockets of Rhode Islanders we can help individual borrowers make important long-term financial decisions that will ultimately benefit the economy as a whole,” he says.

Garnishing Social Security

The GAO reports finds that student loan debt has real consequences for those in or near retirement The need to juggle debt on a fixed income may increase the likelihood of student loan default. In 2013, the U.S. Department of the Treasury garnished the Social Security retirement and survivor benefits of 33,000 people to recoup federal student loan debt. When the government garnishes a Social Security check, multiple agencies can levy fees in addition to the amount collected for the debt, making it even more challenging for seniors to pay off their loan.

Ranking Member, Susan M. Collins (R-ME) Ranking, on the Senate Panel, warned [because of a 1998 law] seniors with defaulted student loans may even see their Social Security checks slashed to see their Social Security check to $750 a month, a floor set by Congress in 1998. “This floor was not indexed for inflation, and is now far below the poverty line, adds Collins, who says she plans to introduce legislation shortly to adjust this floor for inflation and index it going forward, to make sure garnishment does not force seniors into poverty.

According to an analysis of government data detailed on the CNNMoney website, “More than 150,000 older Americans had their Social Security checks docked last year for delinquent student loans.”

Unlike other types of consumer debt, student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Besides docking Social Security, the federal government can use a variety of ways to collect delinquent student loans, specifically docking wages or taking tax refund dollars. These strategies also cutting the income of the older person.

Some Final Thoughts…

“It’s very important that we focus on the big picture and the implications in play,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell, noting that “Education debt is becoming a significant factor for younger workers in preparing for retirement, delaying the ability of people to retire and threatening a middle-class standard of living, both before and after they retire.

Connell says, “Its serious concern for some older Americans as approximately 6.9 million carry student loan debt – some dating back to their youth. But others took on new debt when they returned to school later in life and many others have co-signed for loans with their children or grandchildren to help them deal with today’s skyrocketing college costs.”

“It’s not just a matter of Federal student loan debt being garnished from Social Security payments if it has not been repaid, “ Connell added. “Outstanding federal debt also will disqualify an older borrower from eligibility for a federally- insured reverse mortgage.

“Families need to know the costs and understand the long-term burden of having to repay large amounts of student loan debt,” Connell concluded. “They also need information regarding the value of education, hiring rates for program graduates and the likely earnings they may expect.”

Finally, Sandy Baum, senior fellow with the Urban Institute, warns people to think before they borrow. “They should borrow federal loans, not private loans, she says, recommending that if their payments are more than they can afford, they should enroll in income-based repayment.

Addressing student loan debt issues identified by the GAO report, Baum suggests that Congress might ease the restrictions on discharging student loans in bankruptcy, and end garnishment of Social Security payment for student debt. Lawmakers could also strengthen income-based repayment, making sure that they don’t give huge benefits to people with graduate student debt and relatively high incomes.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.